Emergency care in the U.S. has been called a system in crisis, and the data are startling. From 1994 to 2004, the number of hospitals and emergency departments (EDs) decreased, the latter by 9%, but the number of ED visits increased by more than 1 million annually.1 (See Figure 1, p. 17)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics, between 40% and 50% of U.S. hospitals experience crowded conditions in the ED, with almost two-thirds of metropolitan EDs experiencing crowding at times.2
Hospitalists and emergency medicine physicians asked about their complex relationship—the good, the bad, and the not yet solved—praised their ability to work together.
“In general, our relationship with hospitalists has been fantastic,” says James Hoekstra, MD, president of the Society of Academic Emergency Medicine. “To have physicians who are willing to take patients with a lot of different disease states that are not necessarily procedure oriented, don’t necessarily fit into a specific specialty, or are somewhat undifferentiated in their presentation—for us that is an absolute joy.”
The number of hospitalists and emergency medicine physicians might be said to be running in parallel, says Alpesh Amin, MD, MBA, FACP, executive director of the hospitalist program and vice chair for clinical affairs and quality in the department of medicine at the University of California, Irvine. He tends to refer to this ratio as 30-30, meaning that, within a few years, there will be roughly 30,000 hospitalists, while there are currently that many emergency medicine physicians.3 In addition, emergency medicine and hospital medicine are site-based specialties, says Dr. Amin, so bridging their separateness is crucial to patient care.
“Aside from a small proportion of direct [patient] admissions,” says Jasen W. Gundersen, MD, chief of hospital medicine at the U. Mass. Medical Center in Worcester, “we are an extension of the ER, and the ER is an extension of us. We need to all be on the same page so that what’s said in the ER matches what happens on the floor, which matches what we send out to the primary [care physician].”
Optimizing patient flow is primarily a function of communication, says Marc Newquist, MD, FACEP, a hospitalist, an emergency medicine physician, and program director of the hospitalist division of The Schumacher Group in Lafayette, La. “The better that these communication systems can be standardized, the better hospitalists and their emergency medicine colleagues can promote a seamless integration between the two specialties as patients journey through their hospital stays,” he says.
“As medicine becomes more fragmented and hospital medicine does, let’s face it, fragment care,” adds Dr. Gundersen. “We also have to make sure that information flows from the primary-care physician who may send the patient to the ER. Everybody is a partner, and everybody needs to communicate back and forth and understand that if the ER wants to get someone admitted, timely communication with the hospitalist and understanding how the flow of the hospital works is really important.”